The Majestic Circle Island Tour was a great way to get an overview of Oahu in a short amount of time. Through there were a lot of drive-by-only situations for places like Sandy Beach, Rabbit Island, Chinaman’s Hat, Waimea Bay and Turtle Beach, there were also plenty of stops where we were given time to take photos, hike and walk around.
I was fairly surprised that our driver, Cousin Brandon, was also our tour guide along the trip. It seems like quite a lot of work to both navigate traffic with a 25 passenger van and tell relevant stories as we’re driving along to each destination, but I guess experience helped him do both successfully.
One thing to note is that the majority of the Majestic Circle Island Tour participants were 55+ and were traveling in couples. I’m used to this kind of tour including people who either, like me, are traveling alone, or at least are closer to my age. If you’re in your 20s and 30s looking for similarly-minded people to connect with, this is NOT the tour for you. Instead, try one of the more action-based activities or tours like parasailing, surfing or hiking. With that note (that will come in to play later on in this post), here’s a rundown of the stops on the tour:
Hanauma Bay was a scenic area on the southeast corner of Oahu. Though we didn’t have much time here for more than a quick walk around the viewing area and some time to snap pics, there were quite a few people here enjoying swimming and snorkeling. This is apparently one of the more popular snorkeling spots on the island, and one I intended to come back to but ran out of time.
It was interesting to find that the grassy area near the bay was filled with chickens running around! Per our tour guide, cats and chickens are pretty much the only “wild” animals you’ll see on the island due to the Department of Agriculture not allowing more predatory animals to be brought to the island, with the exception of zoo animals.
Cousin Brandon also told us that anyone can go wild boar hunting here, but you can’t use a firearm because hunting areas are so close to populated communities. So, get your knife and your dogs and go for it!
The Haloni Blowhole was a beautiful spot! The coastline view was gorgeous… but nothing was blowing out of the blowhole. The group stayed around a bit to see if maybe something would happen, but eventually left without seeing the blowhole in action. We did see a sea turtle though, so that was something.
This Byodo-In Temple is a smaller replica of a much older temple in Japan, built to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants coming to Hawaii. The architecture of this temple is so beautiful, that I can’t imagine how impressive the full-sized temple must be!
Though it’s a tourist attraction, it is a very quiet, contemplative place where you need to remove your shoes to enter and are under the eye of a watchful monk to make sure there’s no shenanigans happening in there.
There were at least 4-5 people worshiping here in the area with the Buddha statue. The grounds around the temple were stunning as well, with small areas with benches which I assume are for quiet meditation, and also a very full Koi pond.
Tropical Farms of Hawaii
This was a fun stop filled with snacking on free macadamia nut samples and drinking free coffee. I don’t think I’d go out of my way to stop here again, since you can literally buy all of this stuff anywhere on Oahu, but it was fun to get to try some macadamia nut flavors I wouldn’t have normally bought without trying.
There was also a cute jewelry shop outside of the tasting building that had very reasonable prices. I ended up snagging a lovely necklace with a freshwater pearl charm there for only $5.
Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center was just on our itinerary as a lunch stop, but instead of taking the full hour to have a sit-down restaurant meal, I decided to hit up some food trucks so I’d have a little time to wander around.
I ended up stopping by a food truck selling Kalbi short ribs and it was possibly the best thing I’d tasted in Hawaii up to that point. So flavorful and tender! It came with a side of rice and macaroni salad, but I ended up focusing mainly on the meat and just a few bits of the macaroni.
The next food stop at the Polynesian Cultural Center was Penny’s malasadas truck to try some highly-recommended malasadas. I was told to go to Leonard’s Bakery for these, but in the case I didn’t make it there this trip, (spolier: I never made it to Leonard’s) I wanted to try these just to get an idea of what these things are. They’re just like a super fluffy doughnut coated in cinnamon sugar, and sometimes filled with stuff. I got a plain one and one filled with coconut cream and both were good, though they were messy to eat – I was covered in cinnamon sugar by the end.
With about half an hour left after eating, I had just enough time to wander around the Hukilau Marketplace. I realized that I hadn’t picked up any souvenirs yet, so I ended up buying a wooden mask and a tiny drum to take home.
There was also an area with an interesting art exhibit that I was able to just spend a few minutes in.
After a quick walk around the free areas of the cultural center, I could tell that this is the type of place you could easily spend a full day. There are lots of activities going on here, including different shows, luau and other activities. Full details on activities are on the Polynesian Cultural Center website.
Sooo… this is where the fact that 90% of the tour participants were over 55 comes in to play. When our tour guide asked if anyone wanted to swim in Waimea Falls, I was the only one to say yes. To the point that the Waimea Valley hike and swim were the main drivers for my booking this particular tour. These activities are featured in the tour info and the instructions for the tour tell participants to wear or bring swimwear for this… yet no one wanted to do it. No interest in the most exciting activity on the tour. So sad.
It turned out that weather conditions meant that no one was allowed in the falls, so even I, the lone group member that was gung-ho to jump in there couldn’t get in. So, no swim in the falls, but it was fun to hike in the valley!
The rest of the group walked insanely slow, so I was able to wander off and do my own hiking up some hills and side paths. It was like a rainforest there, so paths were slippery, but nothing too treacherous.
By the time I actually made it to the waterfall, it was pouring rain, but I still managed to enjoy the view for a while even though I wondered why I couldn’t just take a quick dip in there when I was drenched anyway.
A fun little bonus on this leg of the tour – there was a hula dancer and musician in the welcome center both when we arrived and when we left. They were situated right beside a cafe, so I was able to grab a snow cone to snack on while I watched the performance. Even though I had enjoyed a free hula show already, it was great to be this close up to better appreciate the grace and beauty of the dancing.
This was the last stop, and had all the older folks in a tizzy to get here. I didn’t really understand the allure since there’s nothing to do here with the amount of time we’d have at the plantation other than get a snack.
I walked around a bit here and got some Dole Whip, but wasn’t overly impressed with this stop. Maybe if we’d had time to enjoy the train or the maze, it would have been different.
Even with the slower pace of the tour and not being crazy about a couple of the stops, I’d recommend the Majestic Circle Island Tour to anyone visiting Oahu for the first time! It would be best to plan this in the first few days of your trip to get an idea of places you’d like to come back to visit later and do more than snap some pics. And also, as in the case of Nuuanu Pali Lookout, which was too foggy to actually be a proper lookout at the time we visited, if you schedule this early in your trip, you can come back to check out any attractions that time or weather may not allow the day of the tour.
This is also an excellent tour for someone who doesn’t have a rental car since hotel pickup is included. Our driver even took a detour on the way back to our hotels to give us a quick tour of downtown Honolulu.